Further Reflections on an Action Learning Intervention

This post represents a further reflection on the action learning intervention undertaken by Dr. Rod Waddington in South Africa.  It follows on from my previous reflections on the values differences between narcissism and action learning.

In another earlier post, I highlighted the need to support mindfulness training with organisational interventions designed to address things like over-work, lack of agency, managerial style and toxicity.  This was the perspective of the union body in the UK and the Mindful UK Report.   Now I turn to ways that mindfulness could strengthen an action learning intervention that did address these identified issues.

In the current reflection, I want to highlight the role that mindfulness could play in enhancing the outcomes of the action learning intervention by focusing on self-awareness and resilience.

Mindfulness strengthening self-awareness

One of the outcomes that Rod’s intervention in an education setting in South Africa had in common with Dr. Diana Austin’s intervention in a health setting in New Zealand, is the personal disclosure by participants of what they were experiencing and feeling and what contributed to their pain and suffering.  In the case of the college, the disclosure related to the style of management and the toxicity of the workplace; in the health setting, midwives identified the lack of support that they received following a critical incident.

In both cases, participants had suffered in silence and not shared with others what was happening for them – they were engaged in a “conspiracy of silence”.  The collaborative environment provided by action learning enabled them to feel safe and to be open about what they really thought and felt.

If mindfulness training had preceded these interventions, participants could be more aware of themselves and more willing to share at a deeper level. Mindfulness brings with it self-awareness and increased insight into factors impacting thoughts, feelings and reactions.  Participants would also be better placed to support each other through the disclosure experience.

Mindfulness strengthening resilience

If participants in an action learning program had been exposed to mindfulness over a reasonable period and had undertaken regular practice, they would have brought a higher level of resilience to the action learning intervention.  This, in turn, would contribute to the ability to sustain the outcomes of the intervention as participants would be better able to manage setbacks and difficulties.

The potential contribution of mindfulness for an action learning intervention

As potential participants in an action learning intervention grow in mindfulness through meditation training, they bring to the intervention a greater capacity to contribute openness and honesty, make the most of the opportunities for increased agency and contribute to the sustainability of the intervention through their enhanced resilience.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Engaging With and Accepting Death

Annie Robinson, in her article, How Mindfulness Can Ease the Fear of Death and Dying, asserts that there is a strong movement in the West to reengage with death, encourage open conversations about death, and to pursue choices in dying that respect the values and vision of the dying person.  This is also the theme of Lucy Kalanithi’s TED talk and Paul Kalanithi’s book,  When Breath Becomes Air, which he wrote while suffering from terminal cancer.

There are a number of characteristics of this movement and approach which involve dying mindfully:

Acceptance of death

Acceptance involves not only acknowledging the onset of death but all the feelings and thoughts that go with it.  This includes denial, sadness, suffering, anger, fear, grief and sense of loss associated with declining mental and physical capacity as well as the ultimate separation from loved ones.  It also includes accepting the loss of our old identity and an envisioned future and progressively forging a new identity and vision of dying.  Mindful acceptance does not remove the suffering but can reduce the pain and fear of death.

Being attuned to sensory experience

This involves paying attention to our senses – touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell- and experiencing the sensations such as a beautiful scene or sweet-smelling flower to a heightened degree.  It involves resting in these sensations while we can still experience them.  Some of these sensations will be intensified as we focus on them with our waning energy.  Annie suggests that being attuned to our sensory experience can develop joy and mindfulness.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses, has demonstrated that focused attention on our senses can alleviate pain and help us to rewrite the narrative in our heads (including the narrative of fear and depression).

Finding balance through openness to love

Remaining open to love and caring of a partner, parents, children and relatives enables the dying person to find some level of balance as they alternate between pain and joy.  This requires vulnerability as their faculties decline and dependence increases; it also means that bitterness over loss on every dimension is not permitted to gain a stranglehold on emotions.  In his book, Paul Kalanithi was able to talk about marriage difficulties arising from his extreme workload as a neurosurgeon resident, working from 6am to late at night, 7 days a week.   His wife, Lucy, in the Epilogue to Paul’s book acknowledged that the cancer diagnosis enabled them to reinvigorate and deepen their love for each other and, in the face of  Paul’s dying, “to be vulnerable, kind, generous, grateful”.

Lucy wrote about the balance that emerged through their complete acceptance and trust in each other:

Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult – sometimes almost impossible – they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love (p.219)

Lucy acknowledged that as you grow in mindfulness, you can find joy amidst the pain and grief, meaning when all seems lost and a profound gratitude that engenders fortitude and courage.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Dying Mindfully

Lucy Kalanithi, in her Ted talk, What makes life worth living in the face of death, shared the story of her last 22 months with her husband who was suffering from terminal cancer.   Her husband, Paul, a young neurosurgeon, was able to continue his practice for a while after his cancer diagnosis owing to his oncologist’s management of his chemotherapy.

After Paul was unable to continue as a neurosurgeon, he turned to writing which he continued to do until the last months of his life.  Paul’s book is titled, When Breath Becomes Air.   The book is a reflection on the task of transitioning from doctor to patient.  It describes the challenge of facing his own death –  a challenge that both Paul and Lucy had assisted their patients to face.

Lucy explained in her talk that together they accepted that suffering and death were part of life – but this did not remove the pain and suffering involved.  When reflecting on life and its purpose she said:

Engaging in the full range of experience — living and dying, love and loss — is what we get to do.  

Lucy said that instead of fighting against fate, she and Paul learnt together how to deal with the here and now of suffering and loss – they worked together to help each other through.

Part of their approach to Paul’s dying was to talk with each other openly and honestly about their feelings and the difficult decisions that they faced progressively:

  • whether to have a child (with Paul’s uncertain life expectancy)
  • whether Lucy should remarry after Paul died
  • what level of medical intervention they would accept at different stages of Paul’s illness
  • when to turn off life support.

Lucy commented that talking through the options, helping each other make those decisions and accepting the pain and loss involved at each stage, gave her a new insight into the meaning of resilience – because it could not mean, in their circumstances, “bouncing back” to a prior state.  Paul had to redefine his identity throughout the illness as he lost physical and mental capacities and Lucy had to find a new meaning in her role as “caregiver”.  Together, though, they showed the resilience of facing dying mindfully, of being present to the current reality confronting them and not meeting it with denial.

Paul also used his final months to reflect on what he was experiencing in the hope that his written reflections could help other patients going through what he was experiencing and help clinicians to understand the dying patient’s journey from the inside.

In her final comment, Lucy stated that exercise and mindfulness meditation helped her a lot.  As we grow in midnfulness, we can help each other during the experience of dying and develop a new resilience in the face of an inevitable, changed reality.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness for Childbirth

In the previous post, I discussed mindfulness for postpartum depression and shared the story of Kristi Pahr and a range of relevant mindfulness resources.  In this post, I want to focus on the research that has been conducted on the use of mindfulness in preparation for childbirth.

Research in the area of mindfulness for mothers suggests that developing mindfulness during pregnancy can assist the mother not only during the perinatal period but also during the birth of a child and the postnatal period.  The benefits of mindfulness practice before birth can flow over to the postnatal period and help to prevent or alleviate the effects of postnatal depression.

Research on Mindfulness for Childbirth

Both pregnancy and childbirth challenge the resilience of a mother and the postnatal period brings its own stressors with the need to care for a newborn baby.   Mindfulness, in concert with social support, can help to ward off postnatal depression and assist in keeping both mother and baby healthy and happy.

Fear associated with expecting the worst in labour and the graphic sharing, both orally and in writing, of difficulties experienced by other mothers, compounds the natural anxiety of expectant mothers.  This, in turn, can make labour more difficult and prolonged and lead to other undesirable outcomes such as increased need for pain relief or other medical intervention and increased possibility that the mother will experience postnatal depression.

The Guardian in June 2017 carried a report of research conducted by Dr. Larissa Duncan and her colleagues based on the 2.5 days, weekend workshop, Mind in Labor (MIL) – developed and conducted by experienced midwife Nancy Bardacke, author of Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond.

The focus of the Guardian article was on the question, Can mindfulness reduce the fear of labour and postpartum depression?  The reported research involved a randomised group (with some participants randomly assigned to complete the mindfulness course, while others [the control group] did not undertake the mindfulness training).  The research group covered 30 expectant, first-time mothers in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

Participants in the mindfulness training were given specific coping skills for birthing including learning to reframe the experience of pain, learning how to decouple pain sensations from negative thoughts and emotions, and developing personalised strategies with their partners to cope with the birthing process and beyond.  They were also exposed experientially to a range of mindfulness practices such as mindful walking, mindful breathing, body scan, sitting meditation, mindful eating and coping with pain through experiencing pain mindfully (holding ice blocks in their hands).

The conclusions reported in the research project by Dr. Duncan and her colleagues were stated as follows:

This study suggests mindfulness training carefully tailored to address fear and pain of childbirth may lead to important maternal mental health benefits, including improvements in childbirth-related appraisals and the prevention of postpartum depression symptoms. There is also some indication that MIL participants may use mindfulness coping in lieu of systemic opioid pain medication. 

Translated this means that the mindfulness training participants had increased belief in their capacity to handle the pain of birthing (self-efficacy), better ability to manage the pain through mindfulness techniques, greater body awareness, more positive perception of their experience of childbirth and less symptoms of postnatal depression.

As expectant mothers grow in mindfulness through tailored mindfulness training and practice, they are better able to manage the pain associated with childbirth and at the same time are less likely to suffer postnatal depression.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness for Children: MindUP

Empathy is the gateway to compassion. As we grow in mindfulness we become more aware of others and their needs and of the pain and suffering that mirrors our own experiences.  We also gain the insight to understand our own potential and capacity to act to redress pain and suffering in others – our ability to show compassion in a way that is reflective of our life history  and unique skill set.

This was certainly true of Goldie Hawn who acknowledged that, as she grew in mindfulness through mindful practice, she developed a deeper empathy for the plight of children who were lacking in joy and suffering from stress and fear.  This deepened empathy led to the insight that she herself could do so much to redress the pain and suffering of school age children in a unique way – she could show compassion in a way that was built on her own life history and skill set.

This, in turn, led to the development of MindUP™ – mindfulness for teachers and children.  In establishing MindUP™ through her Hart Foundation, Goldie had some very clear goals in mind:

I created MindUP ™ with educators, for educators.  I wanted to help them improve student focus, engagement in learning academics and give them tools and strategies that would bring joy back into the classroom. It is my greatest hope that every teacher who uses MindUP™ will find it beneficial in their work and in their life.

Goldie realised that she had to work through teachers to develop a new curriculum based on mindfulness and to give the teachers experience of the benefit of mindfulness so that they were motivated to share this with their students. The program with its curriculum and framework  consists of 15 lessons for Pre-K-8th grade children.  It exposes the teachers and children to “neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness and social learning”.

An experiential approach to mindfulness is embedded in the program through daily mindfulness practices.  Children are taught “activities around topics such as gratitude, mindfulness and perspective taking”.  Goldie was able to report that the science/evidence-based program, which has been evaluated over a ten year period, has impacted the lives of 500,000 teachers and children.

The outcomes of the MindUP™Program, identified in the ongoing evaluation, are reported as “drives positive behavior, improves learning and scholastic performance, and increases empathy, optimism and compassion”.

This program shows you what mindful leadership can lead to and what impact a single individual can have through their own growth in mindfulness.

Mindfulness for children is becoming critical because of the increasing loss of the capacity to focus and pay attention, the growth in depression and mental illness in school aged children, the disastrous impact of cyber bullying leading some to suicide and the underlying lack of skills and resilience to deal with life’s challenges.

Goldie Hawn, through her MindUP™ Program, takes action to redress these issues for children.  She shares how her own life is now filled with joy and happiness.  What she has effectively achieved in her own life through mindfulness practice, are the essential elements of happiness:

  • work or activity that utilises her core skills and experience
  • meaningful work/ activity
  • working towards something that is beyond herself.

Personal happiness can be an outcome of mindfulness but it also provides the foundation for the active pursuit of some goal that will bring happiness and fulfilment into the lives of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Khamkhor on Pixabay

 

Persistence with Mindfulness Creates its Own Reward

In previous posts, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief in situations of chronic pain and alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.

From my personal experience, I can confirm that being mindful in the midst of pain or the relentless itch from psoriasis is not easy.  However, I have found in both situations that mindful meditation has been extremely helpful.

In 1997, my back collapsed and I could not stand for more than two minutes or walk more than 10 metres without experiencing excruciating sciatic pain that travelled down to my ankles.  On top of this, I had pneumonia which aggravated the pain whenever I coughed.

I spent 18 months having all kinds of treatment – chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy.  There were times when I had to lie on my back on the floor, alternating one hour on and one hour off.  When you are lying on the floor, there is not much you can do except meditate – which is what I did to achieve some degree of pain management.

More recently, I have found that mindful breathing focused on the part of my body that is itchy, has provided some relief.  This is difficult to do because the temptation is to seek distraction rather than focus on the source of discomfort.  However, as I mentioned in my previous post on psoriasis, research has demonstrated that mindful meditation can actually enhance the healing benefit of whatever form of treatment for psoriasis you are undertaking.

We know from experience that conscious breathing can help us manage pain when, for instance, we are undertaking painful physiotherapy or remedial massage.  Research shows that conscious breathing, combined with focused attention, actually speeds up the healing process.

While the pain or itching discomfort can remind you, and motivate you, to undertake mindfulness meditation, this practice in turn helps you to grow in mindfulness – with all its attendant benefits. So, there is a two-way dynamic operating – pain and discomfort precipitate mindful practice and the latter reinforces other forms of mindfulness that you have developed through different techniques.  Also, as you grow in mindfulness, it gets easier to be mindful when experiencing chronic pain or discomfort from psoriasis.

What I found helpful too is to visualise a future state where you are healed – in my case, visualising returning to playing tennis again on a weekly basis, a state which I eventually achieved after mindfulness meditation in concert with multiple treatments for my back problems.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of illustrade on Pixabay

Looking For Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere if we just look out for it.  However, as mentioned in the previous post, we tend to become focused on negative news, rather than positive stories.  Inspiration leads to health and well-being, while negative-oriented news creates distraction and emotional disturbance – especially where events are sensationalised to create the maximum emotional impact.

One of the very helpful sources of inspirational stories is TED Talks – an endless source of video presentations on every conceivable topic by numerous people from different corners of the world who have achieved much to improve the human condition.

One such talk was given by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi – What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death?  In this outstanding presentation, Lucy discusses how she and her husband Paul, a neuroscientist, coped with the knowledge that at the age of 37 he was dying from Stage IV lung cancer.

In her optimistic -and sometimes humourous – talk, Lucy makes some key points:

  • the critical importance to keep talking to each other, with no topic off limits
  • realising that the person who is dying must work to reshape their identity
  • making conscious choices together about ongoing health care
  • learning to accept the pain of your dying partner
  • finding beauty and purpose amidst the sadness
  • learning that resilience, in this situation, means bouncing back to real living without denying the reality of impending death.

The video of the presentation by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi is given below:

Besides building bonfires on the beach and watching the sunset with her friends, Lucy found that “exercise and mindfulness meditation helped a lot” after Paul’s death.

Both Paul and Lucy were noted for their compassion towards others. As they were able to grow in mindfulness through this compassion and their intense living-in-the moment, they were better able to cope with the reality of Paul’s terminal illness.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of martythelewis on Pixabay